After a period of intense relaxation in health measures to prevent the new coronavirus, several European and Asian countries are registering a considerable increase in cases of the disease, which again raises concern about the resurgence of a new wave of Covid.
Specialists interviewed by the g1 point out that the issue has to do with a congruence of factors, such as the stagnation of vaccine coverage, sanitary flexibilities and behavioral change of the population.
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Below, understand in 4 topics, the following questions about the moment:
- Which countries are experiencing an increase in cases and hospitalizations?
- What are the main explanations for the rise in indicators?
- What is the role of subvariant BA.2 in this increase?
- How is the scenario for Brazil?
The United Kingdom, Austria, the Netherlands, Greece, Germany, Switzerland and Italy are some of the European countries that have seen an increase in the last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, which tracks the coronavirus pandemic.
In Germany alone, the number of daily cases rose from 67,000 on March 6 to 237,000 last Friday (11).
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“Germany now has the highest incidence of coronavirus in Europe. One uptrend, several deaths. Unvaccinated people should be vaccinated urgently,” said the country’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach.
People without protective masks against Covid-19 walk along Oxford Street, in London, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom, on October 20, 2021 – Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy also showed an increase in hospital admissions in the last week, according to information from the platform ‘Our World in Data’, linked to the University of Oxford.
In Asia, Hong Kong recorded an average of more than 21,000 new cases a day, up 28% from the last two weeks. In China, which has a much lower historical record of cases than most countries, the rate of infections has been rising rapidly: 328,000 cases were recorded between February 28 and March 6, a record for the country. Because of the outbreak, the Chinese government has placed nearly 30 million people in lockdown.
2 – What are the main explanations for the rise in indicators?
For Expedito Luna, a specialist in epidemiology at the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of São Paulo (USP), the resumption of Covid in some regions of the planet is a multifactorial phenomenon. One of the reasons is behavioral.
“I think we have a certain fatigue, a tiredness of social distancing measures, wearing a mask, both on the part of people and on the part of governments. And there are other things that also affect. For example, in France, the presidential election is approaching, and there is a need to appease a ward protesting distancing measures,” Luna said.
In addition, vaccination has advanced, but still needs to continue in the campaign. According to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, at least 75% of the population of the European Union and the European Economic Area have had the first dose of the vaccine. For the second dose, the percentage is 72%, for the additional dose, the rate does not reach 52% of the population of these countries.
Queue for vaccination against Covid-19 in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf district of Berlin, capital of Germany, on December 1 – Photo: Annegret Hilse/Reuters
“Faced with the omicron variant and its sublines, booster doses are essential. We lose immunity over the months, and strengthening our defenses is essential”, evaluates virologist and researcher at the Todos pela Saúde Institute (ITpS), Anderson Fernandes de Brito.
Brito, like Luna, also explains that easing the use of masks, especially in closed environments (which occurred in some European countries), is a factor that increases the chances of viral transmission and outbreaks of Covid.
England, for example, lifted all restrictions against Covid at the end of February, including the legal obligation to self-isolate after a positive test. This month, Ireland and Hungary also announced similar measures.
3 – What is the role of the subvariant BA.2 in this increase?
Fernandes assesses that these measures affect in particular the non-vaccinated, or those who have not completed the vaccine cycle, and points to another worrying fact: the advancement of the BA.2 sub-lineage of the Ômicron.
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“It has competitive advantages over other variants, and it is quite transmissible, a factor that, together with the inadequate vaccination coverage, added to the broad flexibilities and the cold weather at the end of winter there (which leads to more agglomerations in closed environments), can explain the current scenario in Europe”, he points out.
The “stealth” subvariant, as it is also called because it has mutations that make it difficult to detect in PCR tests, is already responsible for 48% of all Covid-19 infections in Germany, according to indices from the Robert Koch Institute. In addition, a study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggests that it is more infectious than BA.1 and capable of infecting more vaccinated people.
Despite this, for Marcelo Bragatte, a master in genetics and molecular biology and also coordinator of the Analysis Network, it is still not possible to say that this increase in cases is directly related to BA.2. He explains that this will depend on the monitoring and genetic sequencing of the subvariant.
“But in the flow of viruses, they can invade the same host again several times. The difference for the vaccinated is precisely that the body knows how to respond and passes for asymptomatic. The chain of dissemination is shortened by the organism not allowing the virus to replicate itself so effectively”, ponders the researcher.
And on this replication, this week the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) published a study pointing out that no evidence was found regarding a supposed difference in vaccination effectiveness when comparing infections with BA.1 and BA. two.
In the current scenario, Luna warns that the concern remains about the need to apply booster doses to mitigate the effects of the omicron.
“Very likely, what is being observed has to do with the spread of the omicron. We have already seen that, even vaccinated people, they become infected. The protection provided by the vaccine is not enough to prevent infection. development of serious cases”, explains Expedito Luna.
Researcher at Rede Análise, Isaac Schrarstzhaupt, points out that it is important to understand that we need to fight the virus with all the possibilities we have at hand, “not just the vaccine or the immunity acquired by the infection”.
“It’s like a tug of war, you know? On one side, there’s the virus, pulling harder and harder, and on the other, there’s us. Before, we used to pull this tug of war with distancing, masks and everything else. When the vaccine came, we left our end of the tug of war in the hands of vaccines and stopped helping, that’s what I think with this data!”, he warns.
4 – How is the scenario for Brazil?
Pedestrian movement on Avenida Paulista in São Paulo (SP), this Wednesday (9) — Photo: Celso Tavares/g1
For the experts heard by the g1, the epidemiological scenario coming from Europe and Asia serves as a warning for the coming weeks in Brazil.
“It is important to follow the dynamics of the pandemic there, and observe how the cases will behave in Brazil”, says virologist Anderson Brito.
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Data collected by the University of Maryland in partnership with Facebook already indicate a trend reversal for some states, such as Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul. The survey is carried out with users of the social network and evaluates the symptoms of these respondents, which serves as an early warning.
“I hope it’s just an oscillation, but we have a risk of having the same scenario, yes”, points out Schrarstzhaupt. “Chile is already like this. The country has almost 90% coverage of two doses, almost 80% of the third dose, and even then they have a level of deaths similar to the first wave and a very high level of cases”.
For virologist Anderson Brito, in addition to carefully observing these possible reversals locally, possible revisions of flexibilities may be necessary, if this trend is confirmed. He points out that parts of the Brazilian population, such as the elderly and immunosuppressed, are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, which, in the face of an increase in cases, highlights the need for such health measures.
“Controlling the transmission of the virus with pharmacological measures (expanding vaccination coverage) and non-pharmacological measures (such as wearing a mask in closed environments) is essential to guarantee the safety of those groups, and the general population, in the face of a pandemic that has not yet ended. ”, says Anderson Brito.